Ask for an explanation all you want, Nick Saban. Sometimes there simply are no answers. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
By Martin Rickman
On Tuesday, SI.com's Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples explored four teams that can beat Alabama in 2013. I decided to take a different approach. At this point, everyone should know that no one can beat Alabama unless Alabama wants to beat Alabama. Well, what if a series of mishaps caused Alabama to miss a game entirely?
This is a fictional oral history (note: this is a parody, this is a parody, this is a parody, this is a parody) of the time the Crimson Tide forfeited their season opener to Virginia Tech.
Alabama super fan Chris Widdleton: There was no way 'Bama was losing to Virginia Tech. Everyone I talked to thought the Tide would win 31-10. I bought my tickets months in advance, and we were all gonna drive to Atlanta together and make a big caravan. Hell, we even bought crimson-colored cars for the occasion. A true march through Atlanta. A true Crimson Tide.
Football communications intern Mark Fiedrich: I should have known better, but I was trying to make an impact. I’m an intern, you know? We had our weekly meeting, and I had heard about a bunch of people driving to the game. I figured, why not have the football team drive, too? It could be a whole big thing. The Tide literally rolling to the first game of the year. Get it? Right? Well, we all know what happened next.
Alabama coach Nick Saban: This wasn’t part of the process.
Virginia Tech blogger @thekeyplay: I had no idea any of this was even going on. We were just focused on the game. It was time to #BEATBAMA.
Alabama freshman quarterback Patrick Bateman: We had it all figured out. Coach made us all laminated schedules down to the minute. There was no way this could go wrong. It was Alabama taking a road trip. Meticulous. Perfectly planned.
Atlanta freelance sportswriter Tommy Fromani: I have a few contacts down in Alabama. And a good buddy of mine writes for the Birmingham News. I’ve been trying to make it in sportswriting for a while, so I figured, hey, let’s give this a shot. He told me about the "Roll Tide Roll to Atlanta" plan. I got in touch with the editor over there, and he talked to the 'Bama SID and got me on the bus to document the experience. I thought this was going to be my big break.
Dr. Robert Harbinger, UNC department of history: Large forces throughout history have used pageantry and large-standing armies to intimidate opposing forces, but the success rate isn’t exactly perfect. Just think back to Napoleon’s fatal Russian campaign. Or Operation Barbarossa. History wasn’t on the Tide’s side.
Saban: I just wanted to focus on football.
Fromani: It started out great. I drove in from Atlanta and left my car at the place I was staying in Tuscaloosa. You should’ve seen the crowds. It seemed like everybody in Alabama was down there to send the team and the caravan off. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was the biggest parade you’ve ever seen. Everyone was laughing and crying and high-fiving. Playing music. Dancing in the street. This was the send-off every football team deserved. It was distinctly Americana.
Virginia Tech fan @furrer4heisman: It was all so stupid. It’s a f****** three hour drive.
Fiedrich: We had camera crews, and brought a journalist down from Atlanta. We were going to document every second of this. Everyone had flags hanging from their cars. We even found a way to sync up a radio station, 89.7, in everyone’s vehicle to play the same pregame hype music. What a spectacle. It was somewhere around Pell City when things went awry.
A young Alabama stares blankly into the distance after the shocking reality finally set in. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Bateman: Something didn’t feel right. You know that rush of wind you get, where you feel cold and all the hairs on your arm stick up? We all got that. But not just in our bus. Everyone. I’ve talked to people who were at the back of the pack driving by themselves. They felt it, too.
Widdleton: In retrospect, leaving on the day of the game was probably a bad idea.
Saban: I don’t want to talk about it.
Harbinger: There have been instances like this in the past, where an electrical surge will wipe out anything in range. Weather patterns, government tests, the tides and magnetic fields all could have had an impact. There is a perfectly good explanation for why they all stopped. There is no evidence to suggest this was at all related to anything paranormal.
Widdleton: It was a doggone ghost, I tell you. Don’t listen to anyone else. Something was out to get us. I don’t know if Bear Bryant was there and he was mad at our obvious show of arrogance, or maybe Saban himself was trying to teach us a lesson. I don’t know. But it’s not science. There was something foul at play here, and we all paid the price.
Fromani: Everything -- the cars, the computers, the lights, even my recorder. They all went dead. Everything went dark. And we were there, stuck, for what felt like an eternity. It was all so cold. When everything turned back on it, it was 8 a.m. the next morning. The synchronized radio station was tuned to Paul Finebaum (who was doing an emergency show). You should have heard the callers. My god.
Radio host Paul Finebaum: That was the busiest our boards ever got in my long time in radio. Everybody wanted to speculate about what happened to Alabama. Dale from Hueytown couldn’t stop talking about this ending the Tide’s championship hopes. But you know what they say: an early loss is better than a late one. At least a dozen people called to have Saban fired. Can you believe it? As if this was his fault. Only in Alabama.
Saban: It was time to focus on the next game. The process is still the process.
Bateman: Coach remained calm. We turned around and went home. We went to the film room like we always do, even though we didn’t have any film to look at. He just played three hours of the empty Atlanta football field and asked us what we saw. We were dumbfounded. He never talked about it. None of us ever talked about it.
@furrer4heisman: When we said #BEATBAMA, we thought, you know, maybe we’d actually beat Alabama. But a forfeit works just fine. About time the Hokies got some good luck against a nonconference opponent in the first week of the season.
Harbinger: History shows you can’t really look at an event until decades later to study its impact on society and the landscape at large. I don’t think it’s going to take us much time to realize just how important "Roll Tide Fail" will be in the grand scheme of things. Its legacy is firmly cemented in sports -- and American -- history, as early as today.
Fiedrich: You can probably guess this, but I'll make it known anyway. I didn’t get a job with Alabama after my internship ended.
Fromani: I didn’t even have a story to write. Our memories were all hazy. I ended up stringing high school football games for the rest of that season.
Widdleton: But wouldn’t you know it? 'Bama rattled off 11 straight wins and made it to the final BCS title game before the College Football Playoff anyway. Roll Damn Tide.
RICKMAN: 2013 college football schedule guide: What to watch for week by week
ELLIS: Virginia Tech among five unranked teams with BCS sleeper potential in 2013